Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for October, 2017

The final push toward getting voter approval of a new KCI terminal is on, and the big money is flowing freely.

With a week to go before the Nov. 7 election on Kansas City Question 1, the campaign committee working for passage has raised nearly $1.5 million and has spent all but about $80,000 of that.

(The official name of the campaign committee is KC Transportation, Transit and Tourism, but it is operating under the slogan “A Better KCI.”)

The campaign’s biggest expenses include nearly $250,000 for mailings and postage (I’m sure you’ve seen some of the mailers, if you live in the city) and more than $200,000 for polling, strategy and voter research.

A recent mailer

And if you watch a lot of TV but haven’t seen any TV ads, you soon will: The campaign has bought $630,000 worth of “media.”

Some of the biggest contributors so far include the Heavy Constructors Association, $135,000; Cerner Corp. and its political action committee, $125,000; Southwest Airlines, HNTB Corp., KCP&L Co., Pipe Fitters Local No. 533 and Western Missouri and Kansas Laborers District Council, $50,000 each; and Lockton Companies, $40,000.

A flock of companies and organizations have given $25,000 each. That group includes JE Dunn Construction, Black & Veatch, Operating Engineers Local 101, American Century Investments, Kansas City Southern, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, DST Systems Inc., Sprint and Hallmark Cards.

The two biggest individual contributors that I saw in campaign finance reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission were Paul DeBruce, former chairman and C.E.O. of DeBruce Grain, $15,000, and William Gautreaux, a former energy industry executive, $10,000.

Ten-thousand-dollar contributions of note came from Taxpayers Unlimited, the political arm of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 42; the Kansas City Chiefs; Hunt Midwest; and Clarkson Construction, which would partner with Edgemoor, a Maryland firm, on construction of the terminal.

Edgemoor has contributed more than $70,000, including a $60,000 monetary contribution and more than $10,000 in “in-kind” services. In addition, The Star reported today that even Burns & McDonnell, which attempted early on to get a no-bid contract to build the terminal, gave $20,000 within the last few days.

…What to make of all this?

Well, as I said in a recent post, the sausage, once made, looks a lot better than it did in the making.

The process of getting the measure to a public vote bordered on being a certifiable disaster, with twists, turns and pivots that a serpent couldn’t manage. But somehow the City Council set an election date and weeks later designated a contractor, Edgemoor. And even without a decent design that shows what the new terminal would look like, it appears Question 1 has an excellent chance of gaining voter approval.

Why? Because what we’re seeing now is the unleashing of a tremendous amount of pent-up energy and cash from people and companies that have long wanted a new airport and have recognized, with eyes lasered on the future, that we desperately need one.

Some of those people and companies stand to make out handsomely from construction of a new airport, and some people — campaign consultants and strategists, in particular — are making a lot of money from the campaign itself.

But that’s OK. That’s the way it is in a lot of issue and candidate elections. People and companies put money into campaigns for a multitude of reasons, and sometimes the end result is good for everyone — even the public.

This is such a case!

From my perspective, there’s no reason to be cynical about the money cascading into the campaign…or the people who are making money directly off this campaign…or those who will make money if the new terminal proceeds. This is how the system works; this is what it takes to get a new airport. This is the winding, bumpy road that leads to real progress.

As I’ve said fairly consistently — with a couple of hiccups when it looked like the sausage was completely mangled — I’m all in.

I’ve said it many times: This is a first-class city that needs and deserves a first-class airport. What we’ve got now is a dump.

I say…screw the “convenience” of walking from curb to gate. Once you’re in the gate area, you might as well be in what Jackson County officials used to call the holding areas in the old jail on top of the courthouse: “tanks.”

I’m tired of being in those KCI tanks, and I’m tired of that dreary airport. I’m tired of looking at a crumbling Terminal A, and I’m tired of walking in an endless half-circle looking for someplace to buy an honest-to-God sandwich. (Can’t be had.)

I’m ready for some sunlight splashing down through curving glass ceilings onto the two concourses and the connecting walkway. I’m ready for nice selection of retail stores and restaurants and plenty of stations to charge mobile devices. And, yes, I’m ready for the MOVING WALKWAYS.

Now we’re talking convenience, goddamit!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Kansas City Star readers and City Hall watchers have been treated the last two days to an entertaining and enlightening spat between City Manager Troy Schulte and a handful of City Council members who have been feeling ignored.

I’m sure most of you have heard by now that Schulte reacted strongly and noisily to a proposed ordinance that would reduce the dollar amount of no-bid contracts he could award without council approval.

He essentially dared the council to fire him. If they did, he said, “I’ll earn more money and sleep better at night.”

The story was entertaining because we readers (and sometimes even reporters) aren’t always privy to the internal tensions and frictions that are bubbling up at the cauldron that is City Hall. (I’ve always said anything big that happens in Kansas City starts, goes through or ends at City Hall.)

The story was enlightening because it cast into sharp relief — for the first time in a big way publicly — the divide between council members who are unfailingly loyal to Mayor Sly James and a smaller contingent — led loosely by council members Katheryn Shields and Teresa Loar — that feels marginalized.

Among other things, the rump group has complained about not being informed of developments pertaining to the proposed convention hotel and also about James’ attempted Hail Mary pass to Burns & McDonnell on a no-bid, new-airport contract.

Today, I’m not getting into the councilmanic fissure, interesting though it is. What I am here to do is point out that we readers owe these last two days of compelling news stories to one thing: aggressive, on-the-ball reporting.

Turque

The credit goes, specifically, to City Hall reporter Bill Turque, who has been on the beat less than two months, having succeeded the very capable Lynn Horsley, who covered the city for nearly 20 years.

Turque, who came to The Star from The Washington Post, approached Schulte early this week to get his reaction to the ordinance that would limit his contracting prerogatives.

Turque’s questions must have struck a nerve with Schulte because, instead of giving a diplomatic answer, like, “Well, I’m not too thrilled about this but we’ll see where it goes,” he chose to pick up an hammer and start swinging.

Experienced and savvy reporter that he is, Turque took full advantage of Schulte’s temperamental lapse. Turque charged onto the front page Thursday with a story under the headline: “City manager defies council pressure.”

Very wisely, Turque wasted no time getting to the most explosive of Schulte’s quotes:

“If the core issue is, quite honestly, that they don’t like my management style or where they think I’m taking the organization, that’s easy. That’s seven signatures on the paper with the mayor and nine without the mayor, and I’m gone tomorrow. I’ll earn more money and sleep better at night. Life’s too short.”

Wow…As a former reporter, I’ll tell you, you don’t often get quotes like that handed to you on a platter. It’s strictly a gift from God and something not to be passed up. And yet in the hands of a less experienced, less finely attuned reporter and writer, it could easily have been fumbled. A lesser reporter could have failed to recognize that it was not only a money quote but, more important, it represented the eruption of the long-simmering divide between the pro-Sly and anti-Sly council factions.

Turque saw it for all it was and leapt. As a result of his perspicacity, we now have what we in the news business refer to as “a story with legs.”

Turque scored a good follow-up in today’s paper, with Schulte allowing as how he wished he hadn’t vented his frustration to Turque, and the editorial board jumped in the breach, saying firing Schulte “would be a mistake.” Looking farther ahead, though, this eruption paves the way for more stories exploring the divide between the two council factions. In fact, that divide could now become the defining element of the last 18 months of James’ second and last mayoral term.

…This story is a seminal development on the local journalistic front, too. It tends to validate Turque’s appointment to the city beat and also ease any misgivings regular readers may have had about Lynn Horsley’s displacement.

Frankly, Turque came in under a bit of a cloud. Although hailing from one of the two best papers in the country — The Washington Post — his appointment was met with mumblings of discontent among some former Star reporters and editors because nepotism was at the root of his hiring: Early this year, The Star hired his wife, Melinda Henneberger, as an Op-Ed columnist and editorial writer.

No less than the recently departed, former reporter Laura Hockaday denounced Turque’s hiring — in so many words — on this blog back in August. To my post about a “package deal at 18th and Grand,” Laura appended this comment:

“Taking Lynn Horsley away from City Hall, where she has worked her tail off for The Star for years, leaves a tragic void. She is a heroine and a real trooper for staying on and covering Johnson County politics. As you indicated, it (Johnson County) will be covered by a pro who has no peer.”

If you knew Laura, you know she was lashing out in frustration because of her tremendous loyalty to long-serving KC Star colleagues, many of whom were her friends. She probably didn’t know Turque, or didn’t know him very well, even though he served an earlier, four-year stint at The Star from 1977 to 1981.

I think if Laura was with us today, she would rescind her words about “a tragic void” and would acknowledge that Turque produced a damn good story this week.

That’s not taking anything away from Lynn, whom all of us former editorial KC Star staff members love and admire. But I think it’s safe to say, now, it appears likely we’re going to continue getting first-rate coverage of City Hall from The Star.

Congratulations, Bill! Great story.

Read Full Post »

We had a wonderful event in the Brookside area today — the rededication of the Sea Horse Fountain at Meyer Circle.

It was the culmination of a bi-state, public-private partnership that led to a $900,000 renovation of the venerable fountain, as well as a successful drive for a $350,000-plus endowment to help maintain the fountain in the future.

But as glorious an occasion — and beautiful day — as this was, Brookside was in a state of upheaval and unease. Because, as most of you know by know, shortly after 8 a.m. today, a 39-year-old lawyer was shot down, execution style, outside his home near 66th Terrace and Brookside Road, between Main and Wornall.

Thomas Pickert

The lawyer, Thomas Pickert, had walked his two sons to school — not sure which school — and had returned home. “It appears that our victim was sitting on his front porch of his residence when he was shot,” police spokeswoman Sgt. Kari Thompson was quoted as saying. “The victim’s spouse heard something and came out and discovered her spouse on the ground.”

This murder — again as most of you know by now — was not random. The Star’s story provides the backdrop for this most unusual occurrence:

“Pickert won a $5.75 million judgment this summer against a businessman who had shot a homeless man on his property. Last week, Jackson County court officials started the process of seizing the man’s real estate to pay the judgment. The court filed paperwork that would prevent the man from selling or transferring the property.

“On Tuesday, the court sent the man’s attorney notice of its actions. The real estate to be seized for the judgment were the man’s business building and a home.”

Another extremely unusual thing about this case — besides occurring in quiet, upscale Brookside: The likely suspect in the murder is a 79-year-old man who owns a significant amount of property — or at least he did back in 2010.

That man is David Jungerman of Raytown. A 1997 Chevy van is registered to him — and that police were looking for — was found this afternoon, but as of this writing Jungerman had not been found.

My wife Patty believes he is dead by now, having committed suicide. Patty’s instincts are good, and I think she’s probably on target.

But before I delve more into Jungerman, let’s consider for a minute the plight of the remaining members of the Pickert family…His wife is a physician at the University of Kansas Health System. As The Star’s story said, she was at home; she hears a shot, or something loud noise, goes outside and finds her husband on the ground, lifeless.

How could a spouse come across a more incredible, horrifying scene, right outside her front door?

Imagine her state of mind and her despair tonight.

And the two sons…Their father walks them to school on a beautiful, fall morning. They part. Surely he smiles at them. Probably waves and says something like, “Have fun; I love you.”

Within half an hour, he’s dead. Sometime soon after that the boys undoubtedly are summoned to the office and picked up by a relative or family friend. Mom — in all likelihood — has to tell them Dad is dead.

Imagine their state of mind — their confusion and horror — not only today but for days, months, probably years to come.

…Now back to the possible shooter.

I regret I have to bring politics into this, but political conservatism  and intolerance are integral elements of Jungerman’s make-up. Fact is he’s a right-wing, gun-totin’ nut.

Proof? Check…

Tonight I found a website called Theodore’s World, that goes by the tag line “The PC Free Zone Gazette is American first and Conservative second. It is never anti-American.”

On June 24, 2010, “Theodore” published a post about Jungerman. “Theodore’s” story begins like this:

“A Missouri man’s sign painted on the side of an empty trailer along U.S. 71 has been torched twice in recent weeks. David Jungerman placed the trailer and sign in his field along the major highway, saying:

“Are you a Producer or Parasite

“Democrats — Party of Parasites”

David Jungerman and his “producer or parasite” message in 2010

I remember that trailer. I either read a story about it or passed it on 71. It was in Bates County, about an hour south of Kansas City.

“Theodore” (there’s nothing I found that explains who is or where he lives) went on to report that Jungerman “farms 6,800 acres of river bottom land” and that he was “a staunch believer in personal responsibility.”

To wit: “In 1990, he and his daughter confronted four teens they caught fishing in a pond on their Raytown land. The boys called them names and threatened them…and one spit on Jungerman’s daughter. Jungerman pulled a snub-nosed .38-caliber and held them until police arrived.”

Undoubtedly to Jungerman’s surprise, however, Raytown police didn’t arrest the boys; they arrested him and charged him with a gun violation.

For his part, Jungerman claimed police took his Rolex watch and never returned it. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge, and five years later he sued the city of Raytown for the value of the watch.

“Theodore” reported that Jungerman prevailed in the lawsuit and won $$9,175.

Now, I don’t care who won the case, and I hope the Raytown cops didn’t steal the watch. My takeaway is even in the context of “Theodore’s” sympathetic report, Jungerman clearly does not handle disputes well.

Oh, and about that case where Pickert, the lawyer from Brookside, won the $5.75 million verdict against Jungerman…More backdrop from The Star:

“The lawsuit stemmed from a 3 a.m. shooting on the man’s warehouse property in 2012. A homeless man tripped an alarm on the property and the owner responded. He shot the man, causing him to have his leg amputated, according to a story in Missouri Lawyers Weekly.

“During his closing argument in the case, Pickert gave an emotional argument for a jury verdict against the 79-year-old man for the shooting (saying), ‘A verdict for (Jungerman) is giving him and others like him permission to take the law into their own hands, to be judge, jury and executioner…That’s not the way our society works.’ “

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case: Right-wing, fuckin’ nut job.

Read Full Post »

Laura Rollins Hockaday, an irrepressible cheerleader for The Kansas City Star and a reporter who contributed mightily to expanding the paper’s reach into and standing with minority communities, died last night at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Laura, whom I got to know shortly after arriving at The Star in 1969, suffered from a variety of medical problems in recent weeks, including heart trouble.

A longtime friend of Laura’s, retired reporter John Dvorak, said this in an early-morning email:

“Over the weekend she was removed from various breathing and drug assistance as doctors worked to see if she could move forward on her own. She was doing better for a while and became more alert. But then she declined again and passed away.”

In a story on its website, The Star reported that Laura was 79. She worked at The Star from 1962 to 2000, when she retired. During that time, she held a number of positions, including travel editor, society editor and “people” editor.

Laura, speaking at a 2010 Kansas City Library event

…This is a sad day for Kansas City, which she loved unconditionally, and for her former Kansas City Star colleagues, whose friendship she nurtured and held dear to the end.

Her death is a personal loss to me. I have written this blog since March 2010, and Laura has been a strong supporter from the beginning. She has offered encouragement both when I have been on target and when I have embarrassed myself. And she has been one of the most frequent commenters on the blog, having weighed in more than 200 times during the last 7-plus years.

Her last comments were posted on Aug. 27. One of two comments she posted that day reflected her unfailing loyalty to longtime Star staff members. In that comment she chided Star editors for moving veteran reporter Lynn Horsley from the City Hall beat in favor of an outsider who was hired at least partly because his wife became a member of The Star’s editorial board early this year.

Laura wrote: “Taking Lynn Horsley away from City Hall, where she has worked her tail off for The Star for years, leaves a tragic void. She is a heroine and a real trooper for staying on and covering Johnson County politics.”

**

Laura made her biggest, most lasting mark on the paper as society editor. She assumed that post in the late ’70, I believe, after the paper was sold to a media conglomerate called Capital Cities Inc., which brought in a Texan named James H. Hale as publisher.

In a 2016 freelance article about “The Star’s glory days,” former reporter Charles Hammer of Shawnee recounted Laura’s mindset when she took that job.

“For the 80 years since The Star’s founding, it had appeared that Kansas City had no black society, people who attend elegant parties and throw lavish weddings for their daughters. With Laura steering the selection, beautiful black ladies in long dresses appeared again and again on our page as they cut tall wedding cakes. She integrated Kansas city society, at least in our newspaper.”

In a 2012 comment on this blog, Laura offered more insight into how she came to become society editor.

“When I was asked to take over as society editor and leave the travel editor post, I refused because I was not interested. The offer came up again and O.J. Nelson, my editor, suggested I better comply the second time. I asked Mr. Hale if I could cover the African-American and Hispanic communities on the society pages, where they deserved to be and virtually had not been previously. He agreed totally and I was allowed to proceed without any rules or direction from him. For 18 years, until retiring I tried to cover the entire community and in the process learned so much and made many friends which I have to this day. It was a blessing.”

**

Laura was born a blue blood — great-granddaughter of a U.S. congressman named James S. Rollins, who helped found the University of Missouri — but she was the most everyday, humble person you could ever come across. Over the years, she sought out hundreds of newcomers to The Star and welcomed them with a handshake and big, warm smile. And once you were her friend, you were her friend as long as you wanted to be. There were very few people she couldn’t abide, and she seldom spoke harshly of anyone.

Not long after retiring, Laura began holding annual reunions — in mid-October at the Kansas City Country Club — for former Star editorial staff members and their spouses. About 100 select people would customarily attend. The main course was always the same — chicken tetrazzini — and Laura always made a short speech. She would single out particular guests who had, say, written a book or received an accolade, and she would always close by saying how much she cherished her years at The Star and how important the relationships she had made there were to her.

Earlier this month, the reunion went on without her. Standing in as hosts were former Star reporter Betsey Solberg and her husband, Rick, a former Star photographer. I didn’t attend this year’s reunion, but now I wish I had. I wish I would have heard what Betsey and Rick said about Laura, who, for once, was the one receiving the plaudits.

Laura never married, and her life revolved around The Star: first working there, later her memories of working there and finally tending to the enduring friendships she made during her remarkable, outstanding career.

Rest in peace, Laura. Those of us who were in your wide circle will miss you dearly.

Read Full Post »

In 2009, after 74 years of fielding a football team, Northeastern University in Boston dropped football, saying it was too expensive and not a top priority.

The school’s president issued a statement, saying:

“Ultimately it was determined that elevating and sustaining a competitive Division I football program would require additional multimillion dollar investments on an ongoing basis. A broad consensus developed behind discontinuing football and focusing future resources on programs — both academic and non-academic — where the university can achieve and sustain leadership.”

According to Wikipedia, Northeastern is one of 62 Division I schools that have dropped football. The ranks include Creighton University, in Omaha, in 1942, and Wichita State in 1986.

Now I think it’s time for another Midwestern school to make the big jump: The University of Kansas.

And what could be a better time than this week?

Why this week?

Well, I’ll tell ya…The KU team is so bad (and has been for so long) that with its loss at Texas Christian University Saturday night, the team tied the all-time record for most consecutive road defeats by a major football program.

The 43-0 shellacking was the team’s 44th consecutive road loss, tying a mark set by Western (Colo.) State from 1926 to 1936.

Oh, and the team set another record Saturday night: It gained a total of 21 yards on 49 plays, the fewest net yards recorded since such statistics began being kept 17 years ago.

Like KU quarterback Peyton Bender on Saturday, KU football is flat on its back.

…Now, when an aspiring politician is watching the election results come in and sees he’s going to lose by, say, 10,000 votes in a 15,000-vote election, the honorable thing to do — and what most candidates do — is concede. Make a nice speech, thank your supporters and return to your job and figure out another avenue for civic involvement.

For KU football, though, humiliating losses have become the norm. Their teams have been getting beaten like a snare drum for years. To me, it’s time to GIVE IT UP!

The only period during which KU was any good in the last four decades or so was a few years in the mid- to late 2000s, when Mark Mangino was coach. But, in retrospect, that turned out to be a dark period, too, because it came to light that Mangino’s greatest talent was humiliating and abusing his players.

His idea of motivating players was sticking a finger in front of their noses and saying things like:

:: “Are you going to be a lawyer or do you want to become an alcoholic like your Dad?'”

:: “You’ll be drinking out of a brown paper bag the rest of (your) life.”

:: “If you don’t shut up, I’m going to send you back to St. Louis so you can get shot with your homies.”

Thankfully, Mangino was fired after the 2009 season, but he still walked away with a $3 million payout, representing part of what he would have been paid had he stayed around for the last four years of his $2.3 million annual contract.

With this kind of track record on and off the gridiron, you’d think officials at KU might be considering punting…for the final time.

Wouldn’t it be great to see the university’s new chancellor, Douglas Girod, come out and say something like this…

“After much deliberation, we’ve decided football is no longer a top priority at the University of Kansas. It has become an ever-increasing drain on school finances and detracts our foremost goal — to produce well-educated students who are prepared to compete in today’s fast-paced, demanding world and who will make a positive impact on society. We are also concerned about the long-term, physical and mental well being of our student athletes, and football, it is becoming ever clearer, is a long-term health threat.”

Ah, but sadly we’re not going to hear an eloquent statement like that. (Thank you very much, though, for the standing ovation!) Instead — almost unbelievably — KU recently announced the start of a five-year drive to privately raise $350 million for improvements, mostly to Memorial Stadium.

Three hundred and fifty million! In the pursuit of continued futility!

Wisely, The Star’s editorial board came out strongly against the fund drive, saying the reasoning behind the drive did not include “a clear statement of why these projects help advance KU’s mission, which is to educate students.”

The editorial went on to say: “The effort is even more concerning when you realize it focuses on football. Even the game’s most ardent fans must wince occasionally these days, as uncompensated ‘student athletes’ crack heads on the gridiron.”

…As I wrote last week, with the decline of football — which I think is inevitable — I’m worried about what happens with the great tradition of marching bands.

So, I have a suggestion for an alternate course at KU. Instead of trying to raise $350 million for football-related improvements, set a fund-raising goal of $100 million to make KU the marching band capital of at least the Midwest.

Yes, proceed with improvements at Memorial Stadium, but do so with a view toward accommodating the best college marching bands at an annual exhibition/competition that would draw bands and their followers from throughout the Midwest.

It could be big, I tell ya…And about the worst injuries we would see among competing band members would probably be some cases of dehydration and maybe some muscle strains.

Come on, KU, wise up! Climb out of the ever-expanding football sinkhole.

Read Full Post »

Is anybody out there as worried as I about the future of marching bands?

I know, I know…Along the spectrum of things to worry about — Little Rocket Man, where we’re headed on medical insurance, mass murder from on high — the future of marching bands doesn’t rank very high on “the things we worry about” list.

Nevertheless, if you’re a marching band fan, like I am, you’ve got to be tossing and turning at night, just a bit.

Reason is, of course, the decline in popularity of football — the bedrock of marching band-om.

If parents continue in growing numbers to refuse to allow their children to play competitive football, the game will atrophy from the inside and could, eventually, go the way of boxing and horse racing, that is, consigned to the margins of organized sport.

As regular readers know, I’ve sworn off football. I don’t watch it and don’t read about it…other than seeing a few scores as I look at other parts of the sports section. Last year, I swore off pro football but continued following college football, mainly because I enjoyed going to University of Kansas games to hear the KU Marching Band.

But this year, I wiped the slate clean. The main impetus was news of a study of 111 former football players’ brains that showed all but one exhibited signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E.

I haven’t missed the football at all. But I sure have missed watching the KU band perform at halftime, and I’ve especially missed hearing them play “Home on the Range” at the conclusion of home games.

With the crack in football’s foundation starting to grow, I got to wondering if any leaders of college band programs had begun envisioning a day when college and pro football were no longer headline-grabbing attractions. So, first I put in a call to the associate director of bands at KU. I didn’t get him but another staff member picked up and dutifully took down my name and number and the reason I was calling. (She also got my email address, perhaps thinking that would be an easy way for the director to blow me off, if he wanted to.)

Then I called the director of bands, Brian A. Silvey, at the University of Missouri. “Silvey” said the voice on the other end of the phone.

He was happy to talk about the subject, but, as I suspected would be the case, he wasn’t too worried about the immediate future of marching bands.

He said he thought the tradition would “continue on as it has for the last 100 years,” with college football being the “prominent showcase” for marching bands.

 

Marching Mizzou, at “Homecoming 101” in 2012

At the same time, he readily acknowledged the growing threat to football’s popularity and said that if it got to the point where the marching-band tradition also faltered, he envisioned aspiring marching band members swelling the ranks of a non-profit organization called Drum Corps International, based in Indianapolis.

About 5,000 young people participate in Drum Corps International each year, with the competitive season starting in mid-June and culminating with the DCI World Championships in Indianapolis the second weekend of August.

Now, that was eye-opening information for me. In the first place, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to here that if football fades away, the marching-band tradition will likely continue to prosper, albeit perhaps in more modest settings than massive college football stadiums.

And second, I’ve discovered a possible new vacation venue: Indianapolis, second weekend of August.

Road trip, anyone?

Read Full Post »

Since the early 1970s, Rockhurst High School has had an inspiring slogan: “Men for Others.”

Rockhurst, of course, is known for its rigorous academic curriculum. But its overarching goal is to cultivate in students a desire and sense of obligation to serve others, especially the poor and underprivileged.

I’m sure that philosophy takes root with the vast majority of Rockhurst grads, but not all.

Scott Tucker

One of those for whom the message didn’t take was payday loan shark Scott Tucker, who, on Friday, was convicted in New York on 14 felony charges stemming from a $2 billion payday lending enterprise.

Authorities said Tucker’s multi-dimensional operation exploited 4.5 million consumers, charging outrageous interest rates and deceiving victims about loan terms.

Several other Rockhurst graduates got involved in the payday loan business, including Tim Coppinger and Vince and Chris Hodes, but they have not been charged with crimes.

Of those four, the 55-year-old Tucker apparently was the crookedest and greediest. He and his lawyer, Timothy Muir of Overland park — who was also convicted Friday — set up the business to make it look like it operated on an American Indian reservation and included Native American partners.

Had that been the case, the operation would not have been illegal. But it was a sham. Tucker actually operated the business out of an office building in Overland Park and had as many as 600 employees working in his online, high-interest loan business.

One of the most galling things about Tucker is that he used his ill-gotten gains to live high and conspicuously large. He became a professional race car driver, owned several Ferraris and Porsches and had a Learjet, an $8 million house in Aspen and a 4,400-square-foot home in Leawood. Almost every story that has appeared in The Star about Tucker has been accompanied by a photo of him in racing gear.

Tucker’s career in crime got started within about a decade of his graduation from Rockhurst. In his court-verdict story today, KC Star reporter Steve Vockrodt said Tucker spent a year in prison in Leavenworth after a 1991 fraud conviction. He probably would have been about 29 then.

Instead of using that year in prison to redirect himself toward becoming a man for others, Tucker apparently spent a lot of time refining his avaricious intentions. Vockrodt said Tucker started a consumer loan business in 1997 and went on “to become one of the pioneers in online payday lending.”

“For years,” Vockrodt said, “Tucker’s involvement in payday lending remained hidden behind shell companies and tribal entities.”

I have to think Tucker influenced other Rockhurst grads, at least by example, to get involved in the payday lending business. The others saw the money flowing like floodwater and couldn’t resist jumping in. I’ve also heard that quite a few other Rockurst grads made $100,000-plus investments in the payday lending businesses after being virtually guaranteed of big returns by buddies who were more deeply involved.

Two brothers of Tucker — Blaine and Joel — also followed Scott Tucker into the payday loan business, or offshoots of it.

In recent years, however, the Tucker empire and the easy-money deal Coppinger and several others enjoyed has come crashing down. Consider:

:: Coppinger was ordered to surrender bank accounts totaling $520,000 and to sell a house he owned in Lake Lotawana. He got to keep a house he owned in Mission Hills, but I believe he has sold it.

:: Blaine Tucker committed suicide in 2014, and Joel was recently assessed a $4 million penalty by the Federal Trade Commission.

:: Another payday loan operator, Frampton T. Rowland III of Mission Hills, committed suicide last October. Rowland, 52, was a Shawnee Mission West graduate.

:: Tucker and Muir, whose law practice was in Overland Park, are probably headed to prison. They are now on home confinement, awaiting sentencing on Jan. 5. (Tucker plans to appeal Friday’s verdict, and I imagine Muir will do likewise.)

Being a twice-convicted felon, Tucker may be an inveterate criminal. If he gets out of prison alive, I would give him no more than a 50-50 chance of going straight.

As for the other Rockhurst grads who got into the payday loan business, I have higher hopes. The ones I’m familiar with come from good families, and maybe they will develop — or have developed in recent years — a greater appreciation for the importance of what their teachers at Rockhurst tried to imbue in them.

Being “men for others” remains a  good goal. It’s not too late.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »